HIV-Positive Teacher Sues Chicago School System, Claims Discrimination

An HIV-positive Chicago Public Schools elementary teacher filed a discrimination lawsuit against the district Wednesday, claiming the school’s principal routinely punished him for tardiness despite special accommodations granted by CPS, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, Jumeck Smith accused the principal at Von Humboldt Elementary on Chicago's Northwest Side of failing to adhere to the district's accommodations, which allow Smith to report to work five minutes later than his co-workers. According to Smith, his condition limited his movement so that he was frequently reporting to work after the 8 a.m. start time for teachers.

"It's a long building and he has to walk a bit of a distance. And I'm not an expert on HIV issues, but I think it takes him a long time to do something that you or I could do very simply," Smith's attorney, Christopher Cooper, told the Tribune.

Cooper also told the Tribune that Smith, who taught fifth and eighth grades at Von Humboldt, was approached by the principal at the beginning of the school year and informed that his tardiness from the previous school year resulted in 15 citations that were being reported to CPS headquarters. Smith was removed from his eighth-grade classroom, Cooper added.

Since federal privacy laws restrict employers from divulging whether an employee is HIV-positive, it's unclear who at the school knew of Smith's condition, Cooper continued. But according to the lawsuit, the principal knew and harassed Smith over several weeks — to the point that his work environment became hostile. Smith, who is African American, also claims the principal discriminated against him because of his race. The student population at Von Humboldt is predominantly Latino.  Smith is seeking damages of at least $325,000. "He realizes that when he filed this case that this may be the end of his teaching career," Cooper told the Tribune. "He's not going into this blindly." Smith is currently on paid leave. Von Humboldt's principal, a defendant in the case, could not be reached Wednesday by the Tribune. CPS officials did not respond to questions either.
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